In researching smart home technology, there is nearly an 100% chance that you’ve come across the words Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri/Apple HomeKit, or Microsoft Cortana, to name a few. But what exactly are smart platforms and how do they work when it comes to connected devices? Let’s start at the very beginning!
What Are Smart Platforms?
Smart platforms are software programs that function as virtual assistants that can perform a number of tasks and contain voice interaction technology. These programs link up to connected devices so that you can tell your voice assistant to control these devices wirelessly, also known as Internet of Things or IoT devices.
The Amazon Echo is the most popular smart home device by a large margin and by extension it played a strong role in popularizing its respective voice assistant, Amazon Alexa. Alexa is integrated with the largest number of connected devices and services, from companies like Ring Alarm, Blink, and Philips Hue, to name a few. Alexa has the most skills out of any voice assistant, from cooking to shopping to audio books and more. You don’t actually need a dedicated external device to use Alexa, as it is available as an app on your mobile device and even comes built into a number of devices like the Ecobee4. However, if you want the hands-free experience, you can get an Amazon Echo smart speaker or an Amazon Echo Show, which also includes a screen.
The Google Nest Hub, formerly the Google Home Hub, is Google’s smart home platform device. It contains Google Assistant, it’s voice assistant. On the Google platform, the applications are known as actions, as opposed to skills as they are called on the Amazon platform. In the past year alone, Google Assistant’s actions more than doubled now surpassing over 5,000 available. However, Alexa still has 92.5% more actions than Google Assistant, with over 56,000 actions available in the United States. This isn’t super surprising, as Amazon Alexa came out about two years before Google Assistant. Like Alexa, Google Assistant also has an iOS and Android app available, meaning the physical Google Home, Google Mini, or other third-party Google Assistant devices aren’t required to use Google Assistant.
Siri is the voice assistant of Apple HomeKit, which, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, doesn’t actually require a physical device. Although Siri is built into all iPhones, it’s actually the third most popular voice assistant in terms of usage, trailing far behind Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in terms of its capacity and number of skills. Apple has some built-in advantages due to its ability to turn any television coupled with its massively popular Apple TV into an Apple HomeKit. Siri is also available inside Apple’s HomePod, a premium competitor to the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Finally, there’s Microsoft Cortana, which is actually shifting from a smart home platform to a skill for Microsoft 365 subscribers, according to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. Much like the above smart home platforms, Microsoft Cortana has skills in areas like music, home automation, and general information. It works with products from companies like ecobee, TP-Link, as well as IFTTT. Microsoft Cortana was originally a fictitious virtual assistant that facilitated the journey of the protagonist in Microsoft’s highest selling video game of the early 2000s, Halo. Microsoft Cortana integrates strongly with Microsoft Xbox and the initial device that it connected with was the Microsoft Kinect. The Microsoft Kinect has been discontinued by Microsoft and the Amazon Echo and Google Home third-party competitor, Harman Kardon’s Invoke is no longer being manufactured.
What Are Smart Platform Integrations?
Smart platform integrations allow consumers to automate their homes’ connected devices and control them by voice. Voice assistant-enabled devices are not constantly listening, but rather rely on a wake word to activate the device and prepare it for a query or command. For example, a light bulb that’s integrated with Alexa can be controlled by someone saying, “Alexa, turn off the kitchen lights”. There are tons of connected devices integrated with smart home platforms, from smart security systems to cameras, from smart light bulbs to plugs and everything in between.
What Are Skills/ Actions?
Actions, if you’re in the Google ecosystem, and skills, if you’re in the Amazon ecosystem, are basically apps that you can use with your voice assistant. There are thousands of skills on each platform, from weather skills, scheduling skills, to music, shopping and TV skills. You can even create your own skills or actions, which brings me to my next point…
How Do Developers Work With Smart Platforms?
All of these smart platform integrations have open-sourced software, meaning that almost anyone can create a skill for Alexa or an action for Google Assistant, etc. Manufacturers and individuals can use released software developer kits dedicated to various frameworks like computer systems, operating systems, and video game consoles to create new virtual assistant capabilities. Next, individuals or manufacturers send what they have developed back to the company to have it approved. For example, if you were trying to make an Alexa skill, you’d have to test it in the Amazon Developer Portal. The cool thing is that anyone can make a skill or action, so the possibilities are truly endless.
Smart Platform Integration Recap
And that’s everything you need to know about smart home platforms! This is essential information if you’re looking to build a smart home, as these platforms work with all kinds of connected devices, allowing for voice commands.